Your life on video

I remember years ago when Scott McNealy was still CEO of SUN Microsystems, he was speaking at some large industry conference.  At the time we were starting to see the fruits of video surveillance technology, people were getting a little worried. Big brother was here and people did not like it, especially if you had just got a “photo” ticket in the mail. In front of a large audience Scott’s comment regarding video surveillance technology was to everyone, who was concerned, “Get over it”.   It’s always nice to be scolded  by a keynote speaker.  Scott was not really known as a touchy feely kind of guy. For that matter most corporate executives are not.  However his comment did speak to the nature of technology in that once the train leaves the station progress is hard to stop.    It takes on a life of its own and the rest of the world is left trying to catch up.  Video surveillance has only grown since those comments were made raising the question, “where are the boundaries”?

The borders are becoming increasingly blurred even as video becomes more pervasive in our day-to-day lives.  This is something I pulled off of the Yale – New Haven Teachers Institute sight, written by Angelo J. Pompano, but it does a clear job of illustrating a point:

No, this is not your father’s Candid Camera. Privacy in the Age of Video Surveillance is a serious concern. With the proliferation of video surveillance equipment in every conceivable situation of our daily lives, concealed video cameras are not a source of amusement as on the old Candid Camera television show, but a real restriction on our right to privacy. Consider a hypothetical, but possibly typical day: you wake up and walk out to your mailbox. A neighbor’s private security camera is trained on his driveway across the street and picks you up. Later, you drive to work and when you get to the light on the corner, a video camera is watching to see if you went through red. You stop off at an ATM and you are taped. You go into the 7 Eleven-taped; pump gas- taped; get on the interstate and the traffic control cameras are focused on you. You get to work and the camera in the parking lot follows you into the building. Then you finally get you your desk and once more you are monitored. Let’s not even consider the possibility of hanging out at the water cooler or going into the bathroom. It’s only 8:15 AM and you have already had more TV exposure than Regis Philbin. You begin to think that maybe you shouldn’t have worn that plaid tie with the checkered shirt.

This example is current. It exists today.  We bask in watching reality TV shows when in actuality we are already living it.  We just fail to notice or simply do not care.  Thinking our lives dull.  However everywhere we go we are being watched.  And not just in real-time.  The video content is stored so if we need to, we can access later. As time goes by more and more of our lives will be caught on video, until the point we can stitch them all together to create a complete view of our life, however interesting or boring it may be.

This does raise concerns, and in today’s world when we have concerns it is usually a question of how it is defined in our legal systems. When my life is in the public domain what rights do I have to say what can be viewed and what cannot?   Can someone take some of eth embarrassing clips of me and post to Twitter or on YouTube?  Many states have laws erected around hidden cameras and surveillance cameras.  More interesting may be that many states do not.  Video Surveillance is being discussed at both state and federal levels with arguments on both sides.  Employers would argue that video surveillance can be used most anywhere on corporate campuses (yes..including locker rooms and bathrooms).  The one that so far has been determined off-limits is intrusion into people’s private homes.  However it is apparent that the boarders of video surveillance are expanding not contracting.  Beyond places of business it has morphed into our daily lives.  It may be just the video app on your iPhone, but that in and of itself is a new form of surveillance.  When we got our iPad at home I was amazed at my young boys ability to quickly find and create home video’s with the iPad.  It seems video technology, like it or not is everywhere.  We may not be able to depend on our governments to regulate because to do so will require us to regulate individuals.  Can government keep up with the  fast pace of technological change?

When we think of technology it is an industry that never sleeps.  An industry built on dreams, of dreaming a brighter and better future for mankind.  Of course it is odd, to me, that these technological advancements often happen in our military establishment. Things that we associate with military advancement make their way back to domestic products.  That is what makes this area very difficult for lawmakers as congress does not work as fast as technology.  When they have get involved it is not clear if they had a positive impact (The Microsoft DOJ comes to mind).  When I think of video and where it is today and where it could be in five to ten years it is pretty daunting.  In a commercial today for healthcare they actor talks about swallowing a pill that has a camera that can capture and send video of your internal systems.  That is pretty useful and amazing.  What if the military could create a robotic fly or mosquito that had a camera?  That would be pretty cool for military intelligence?

Today when you look at directions via Google Maps the level of detail you can drill down to is pretty specific.  I can see my house, my lawn etc..But these are still just photographs.  However the question is how long before I can actually see activity going on around my house?  I have seen numerous demos that show 3-dimensional views of a city, what would the natural evolution of this be?  How long before it captures me leaving the house for work or to walk the kids to school? How zoomed in will the view be?  Will the camera view capture a smile or a frown on my face?  Who will be watching me?  Today when police arrest someone who may have stolen a TV from a home, they can view in detail where the person has been by viewing the recent log files of Google Maps, to show where the suspect has been recently.  This could be a boon for couples where one suspects the other of cheating…just a thought.

In the end how far will all this go?  All you have to do is imagine. In the end reality TV is going to die because we will all be on it 24 by 7.  Will we enter Orwell’s, “1984”?  Or maybe Suzanne Collin’s “The Hunger Games”.  We may have to, for I fear when we are all on video ,the reality will be that many of us will not be worth prime time viewing.  Will we need social security cards anymore when we can in real-time pull up fingerprints, or maybe more realistically swipe our thumb and have it cross referenced with some centralized (and distributed) master database?  What about a PIN for your ATM?  That brings some gruesome mobster kind of thought when your thumb is a valuable piece of information.  As has been pointed out there will be many benefits but at the same time we always have to weigh in with at what cost?  In today’s world we are great at figuring out the financial costs, but we seem to have lost sight of the social costs.  But then who needs to see what’s on mans mind since we seem to think we know everyone when they are on video.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 19, 2012

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Technology History Mistakes and Opportunities

In 20 years in the technology sector I have seen a lot of both good and bad strategic decisions. At Microsoft I was with a company that was on the good side and then was on the bad side. I saw many competitors make what were poor strategic decisions. Decisions that in the end would either sink them or put them in a place of constant struggle for success or viability.  I thought it would be good to look back on some of my favorite “stupid” decisions made by companies in the industry.

Lets head to Utah for bad decision number one: WordPerfect.  This was a company that when the personal computer first came onto the scene quickly became the number one player in Word Processing.  Competing against other notable companies like Wordstar, Wang, and Microsoft Word.  If one thing killed them off quickly it can be summed up in the acronym GUI (Graphical User Interface).  When Apple launched the Mac, Microsoft used it as an opportunity to learn about creating software for the GUI.  WordPerfect on the other hand dipped their toes in the water and when they did not see the sales they wanted on the Mac, killed it.  As Microsoft became more enamored with something called Windows, WordPerfect dug their heels in and supported DOS, where they were a leader.  The problem being Microsoft owned both DOS and Windows and had more or less stated Windows was the future.  Towards the end the only thing WordPerfect had going for it was free technical support.  Sounds nice from a  customer perspective, but if you looked at the costs, not sustainable.  WordPerfect over time just seemed to disappear.

Apple actually makes the list.  During the period where there was no Steve Jobs.  Early learning here is Steve Jobs killed  himself off when he hired Pepsi executive, John Sculley.  Steve’s pitch to John was, “Do you want to change the world or sell sugared water”.  As Steve learned people who sell sugared water don’t change the world.  However they are master politicians which led to Steve’s ouster.  Apple would go through several CEO’s  before Steve returned.  Some like, Micheal Spindler would start to pursue a OEM model where they license the software, like Microsoft.  A nice form of flattery, but not in the Apple DNA.  Steve would come back, kill this plan, and we know the rest.

Next up we return to Utah and Novell Netware.  When the computer network first became popular, Novell was the dominant player for our file and print services.  However one stupid decision killed the company.  Why just a file and print server and not a app server to?  I remember I was in a meeting with Bill Gates and he went off about why Novell did not do this.  He was stunned that they did not have the foresight to see what was coming in the industry. In his view had they just added application services, Windows Server would never have garnered the market share it did.  A second more technical item was Novell had a proprietary protocol called IPX/SPX.  They did not support the dominant internet standard called TCP/IP. Eric Schmidt, when he was at Novell worked on fixing this, but then this startup called Google came knocking and he left for greener pastures (much greener as it turned out). As I am sure you all know this internet thing became rather large and Novell played themselves out of the market.  Oops.

As we entered a new millennium things would change.  My old company, Microsoft, which seemed to do no wrong would make plenty of mistakes in the new century’s beginning.  They might say search was a big mistake, but as I have said they never would have figured it out.  Google developed a new software business model.  They did a classic Sun Tzu, when faced with greater numbers change the playing field.  Probably the first blunder was the mobile phone space.  Though they might say they were successful prior to the iPhone I never saw it that way.  THe Microsoft strategy was a smartphone was a business phone and they went head on after RIM.  I never saw it that way.  I saw smartphone’s just a natural evolution of mobile phones and as more intelligence was put in the phone, the smartphone would be a consumer phone.  Then the iPhone launched and that was the end of the Microsoft mobile story.  I know they have this Nokia thing going on, but as good as the phone is, everything I am reading is it is too late.

Going back to search the big loser was Yahoo.  Jerry Yang had a dotcom success story, but was really just pushed aside by a competitor with a better search engine and a better business model.  Google ate everybody up in this space.  They proved the age-old business adage, revenue is king.  It was not long before Yahoo was on the defensive in everything they did.  Google was the tech darling and Yahoo had fallen into the worst place in the industry:  Yesterdays News.  Even when they got a get out of jail free card in the form of a massive Microsoft takeover offer they blew it.  Jerry Yang managed to convince everyone they had a future.  With the recent news of a massive layoff and reorganization, all is but lost. Jerry Yang will be a case study in graduate school, and it will not be flattering.  It will be along the lines on increasing shareholder value.  But then Mr. Yang is an engineer not a finance guy.

Amazon was not a likely candidate to be the early leader in cloud computing.  Next thing you know everyone was left standing with their pants of the ground.  Some rode the wave very well, companies like VMWare.  But across the lake the from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters a  Redmond based power was scrambling.  Google was also behind in this space.  When I look at Cloud based posting these days I see many references for people with experience in Amazon Web Services.  I am not sure I have seen one for Azure (Microsoft’s cloud service). VMWare is always in the conversation with its virtualization software, it is always a good place to be, “in the conversation”.  Most companies building out cloud services usually have either Amazon or VMWare, if not both, as part of their cloud offering

Finally there was the tablet phenom.  When Apple founder Steve Jobs announced Apples plans to make and sell the iPad, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was quoted as saying, “They will never sell those things”.  As it turns out they can sell those tablets.  In the last quarter they sold over 15 million of these items Steve said they could not sell.  In the meantime a slew of Android based tablets have hit the market and as for Microsoft, we wait for Windows 8.  Why do I feel like this will be the Windows Phone all over again?  When the new tablets hit the market will it be revolutionary or just another Tablet?  The market is already 3 years down the road and the company that changed people’s lives sitting on the couch and watching TV was Apple.  That is what technology has always been about, changing people’s lives.

In all the examples I have given one thing is clear.  To create these industry and societal changes it takes a leader who see’s beyond today and looks to tomorrow.  When we look at what I provided in each case we have visionaries that we all know Gates, Jobs, Bezos, Maritz, to name but a few.  In the also ran category you see companies always flat-footed and never embracing the future, but reacting to a race that has already began.  If you are racing Usain Bolt and you are slow off the starting blocks do you think you will win?  Even if you were that fast and physically fit you cannot make up a half a second in a sprint.  That is how today’s tech sector works.  Even if you were to catch up the industry has moved on to a new race.  To win you need to jump the gun otherwise you will be but a  distant reflection in the rear view mirror.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann April 9, 2012